The Frontier Airlines jet that carried a Dallas healthcare worker diagnosed with Ebola made five additional flights after her trip before it was taken out of service, according to a flight-monitoring website.
Denver-based Frontier said in a statement that it grounded the plane immediately after the carrier was notified late Tuesday night by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the Ebola patient.
Flight 1143, on which the woman flew from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth, was the last trip of the day Monday for the Airbus A320. But Tuesday morning the plane was flown back to Cleveland and then to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., back to Cleveland and then to Atlanta and finally back to Cleveland again, according to Daniel Baker, chief executive of the flight-monitoring site Flightaware.com.
He said his data did not include any passenger manifests, so he could not tell how many total passengers flew on the plane Tuesday.
The airline said it was working with the CDC to contact all 132 passengers on the Monday flight that carried the Ebola patient.
Frontier could not be reached to confirm the FlightAware data, and it was unclear whether passengers on the additional flights were being contacted.
The passenger “exhibited no symptoms or sign of illness while on Flight 1143, according to the crew,” Frontier said.
The plane went through a routine but “thorough” cleaning Monday night, Frontier said. Airline industry experts said routine overnight cleaning includes wiping down tray tables, vacuuming carpet and disinfecting restrooms.
The healthcare worker also had flown to Cleveland from Dallas three days earlier on Frontier Flight 1142, the airline reported.
An official with the union that represents Frontier pilots said members were so concerned about possible exposure to the deadly virus that they began reaching out to doctors and other experts Wednesday for information about Ebola.
“It seems like it’s not that big of a risk, but it’s pretty scary,” said the union official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak for the group.
The union official also said that Frontier sent pilots information Wednesday morning outlining the cleaning procedures the carrier was using to make sure the disease did not spread.
In response to the news that another Ebola patient had flown on a commercial flight, the union that represents 60,000 flight attendants on 19 airlines is asking the CDC to monitor and care for the four flight attendants who were on the Frontier flight from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth.
The Assn. of Flight Attendants “will continue to press that crew members are regularly monitored and provided with any additional resources that may be required,” the group said.
The Ebola scare prompted the union last week to call for better measures to protect flight attendants from exposure to the deadly virus.
The group’s international president, Sara Nelson, suggested that flight attendants are being asked to do too much in the fight against Ebola.
“We are not, however, professional healthcare providers and our members have neither the extensive training nor the specialized personal protective equipment required for handling an Ebola patient,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the trade group for the nation’s largest airlines said carriers were working with federal heath officials “to ensure we are doing all we can to protect the well-being of our passengers, our crew members and the American public.”
Airlines for America, whose members do not include Frontier, said its airlines are all equipped with “universal precautions kits” that include gloves, masks, aprons and biological waste bags to clean up any medical spill or accident on a plane.
Earlier this month, United Airlines was rushing to contact passengers who flew on two flights that carried a Liberian man infected with Ebola from Brussels to Washington, D.C., and then to Dallas.
The Ebola-stricken healthcare worker who flew on Frontier had been treating the Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who has since died.
The latest scare has forced some air travelers to think twice about flying.
“It is very scary and my travel is now very, very limited,” Bruce Remick of Hollywood said. “I prefer Skype conferencing.”
Airline-industry stock prices have taken a beating in recent weeks, with some analysts blaming the Ebola scare.
On Wednesday, stocks of Delta Air Lines and United Airlines fell more than 1%. A New York Stock Exchange index of airline stock is down 11.57% over the last month. Frontier is privately held.
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